Continuity and Change in Election Discourses of Immigration within the British National Press
In recent British general election campaigns, issues regarding immigration and asylum are seen to have grown in prominence and become central to the mediation of the campaign period (see Billig et al., 2005). This has given rise to concern about the importance of the representation of these issues with regards to electoral outcomes - and social cohesion more generally. Even within the 2010 election campaign, a campaign ostensibly dominated by discussion of economic issues, the immigration debate came to the fore in two particularly notable ways. Most obviously, this was manifest in the coverage following a Gordon Brown ‘gaffe’, in which he called the floating voter Gillian Duffy ‘just a sort of bigoted woman’ following comments she had made, among other things, about immigration from Eastern Europe. Immigration was also an issue during the inaugural prime ministerial debates, in which questions regarding immigration were asked of the three party leaders in all three televised debates. It does not, therefore, come as much of a surprise that campaign strategists, media commentators and pressure groups have come to routinely vie for media access with regards to such issues within recent campaign periods. Despite these developments, however, there is a lack of understanding in how these debates may have formed historically. Without a historical perspective, it is difficult to assess the extent to which they are a product of contemporary conditions, or whether they are recent manifestations of deeply-embedded discourses. Using content analysis and critical discourse analysis methods to examine national newspaper discourses of immigration in the election campaigns from 1918 until 2010, the research seeks to ask questions, inter alia, of the electoral currency and wider news value of immigration politics over time, the representation of certain immigrant communities within campaign coverage, recurrences and/or divergences in the discursive construction of migration issues and immigrant groups, and which social actors are afforded access and arbitration over matters of immigration within the campaign period. Taking these issues, therefore, within the longue durée, this research seeks to move beyond the shorter-term analyses and party political frameworks that typically dominate election news analyses. Rather, the research will consider the broader public discourses that infuse and inflect news coverage during campaign periods, and what may thus be revealed about the politics of immigration and its democratic representation at each given juncture.